Mayor Walt Cobb knows now that Saturday’s wildfire situation could have been much, much worse.
“I didn’t know it at the time. I just found out yesterday,” Cobb said from the Emergency Services Centre at the Williams Lake Fire Hall Monday afternoon where he remains on watch over the city.
Cobb said he was told the White Lake fire, which could be seen from the city building during the day Saturday, crossed the Fraser River and travelled northeast over the Old Soda Creek Road and up over the mountain at a rate of speed of 40 kilometres per hour.
Winds pushed the Hanceville fire dangerously close to the Anaham Reserve gas bar Saturday evening. The fire was stopped at the entrance to the community. Harvey Petal photo.
Had the wind blown east that day, the fire could have been in the city in less than a half hour, he said.
“It could have been much worse. (The wind direction) is what saved us.”
Sunday and Monday have seen much calmer winds with heavy smoke throughout the valley, Cobb said.
“It’s smokey but it changes all the time. Right now I can see the Ramada but I can’t see Terra Ridge.”
Cobb said some of the smoke can be attributed to BC Wildfire Service crews conducting hang ignition Monday morning to remove fuels along the northeast side of the Hanceville/Riske Creek fire, with the objective of holding the fire at the Fraser River.
Cobb said city councillor Craig Smith would be in Kamloops Monday evening updating evacuated residents there at an information session hosted by the Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake.
Cobb said only 90 or so households in Williams Lake have residents in them who did not evacuate.
Otherwise most streets in the city are blocked off with RCMP check points, like the one at Mackenzie Ave. and Highway 20 which restricts travel west beyond there unless motorists have a permit.
Most stores, including Save-On-Foods and Safeway, closed following the evacuation order however managers from at least one of those stores are requesting a permit to come back and take care of the food and possibly even reopen. Tim Horton’s has stayed open through the evacuation alert and order, much to the relief of workers left inside the city.
Cobb said currently the city is at about half the staffing, with critical employees such as mechanics and those in charges of monitoring the city’s water supply still working.
Management involved with the emergency planning are taking five-hour rotating shifts.
Williams Lake CAO Milo MacDonald and Mayor Walt Cobb get conformation that the White Lake fire jumped the Fraser River Saturday afternoon. The fire hasn't travelled any closer to the city since then. Angie Mindus photo.
“At the end of the day this experience will help pull our team together,” Cobb said of city staff. “We are becoming a real cohesive team.”
As for Cobb, there’s no job he won’t do.
After leaving to get a first-hand look at where the fire crossed at the Rudy Johnson Bridge, Cobb even offered to go water chickens left behind during the evacuation.
“It’s good for me to have a distraction sometimes.”
Fire fighters inside the city have been using their time to plan for the worst case scenario. They have also been setting up sprinklers on key infrastructure around the city such as the hospital and police station.
Cobb said he was relieved to hear the White Lake fire, which has grown to 8,000 hectares, had only moved two feet since Saturday night and currently sits seven kms north of the city and the West Fraser Plywood company, a large employer in the lakecity. The White Lake fire is 10 per cent contained and has 103 firefighters and 11 pieces of heavy equipment on it plus air support, line locators and support staff, according to the BC Wildfire Service.
The Wildwood and Fox Mountain fires merged during the wind storm Saturday, making that fire 13,000 hectares and 20 per cent contained. There are currently 231 fire fighters, 30 pieces of heavy equipment and air support fighting the Wildwood fire.
The Soda Creek fire is burning on the west side of Highway 97 and is 17 km northwest of Williams Lake. It is 10 per cent contained with no fire fighters and no equipment on it.
The Spokin Lake Road fire is 2,500 hectares and 10 per cent contained. The fire is 20 kms east of Williams Lake and has 92 firefighters, 26 pieces of heavy equipment as well as air support, line locators and support staff working on it.
The Hanceville-Riske Creek fire has grown to 98,000 hectares and is 0 per cent contained. Heavy equipment is working to construct guards on the south/southeast flank of the fire along Farwell Road. Fire crews also conducted a burn early Monday afternoon on the west side of the Hanceville-Riske Creek fire: west of Stone, south/southwest of Anaham and east of Alexis Creek. Currently there are 145 fire fighters, 14 helicopters and heavy equipment groups assigned to this fire. According to the BC Wildfire Service, airtankers can be requested if needed, visibility permitting.
The Kleena Kleene fire has grown to an estimated 5,000 hectares. A crew of firefighters with local heavy equipment operators and helicopters are working hard to limit spread and keep this fire south of the highway.
According to BC Hydro, wildfires have caused significant damage to the electrical infrastructure. As of Monday evening, there were six outages all due to fire.
The largest outage is 1,185 customers south of the Soda Creek Road, north, east and west of Highway 20.
About 170 customers are also out of power east of the Horsefly Road.
About 98 customers are out of power east of Mountain House Road.
South of Hanceville 38 customers are without power.
About five customers each are also out of power in the 3500 block of Hatchery Road, off the Likely Road and at Pumphouse $4.
BC Hydro said it is working closely with emergency officials to respond and restore power as soon as its safe to work in impacted areas.